A look at the Deaconess Hospital

This week, we take a look at the story of the Deaconess Hospital and the records relating to it at LHSA.

In 1888 the Very Rev. Professor A H Charteris proposed to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland his scheme regarding the organisation of women’s work in the Church. This included the Women’s Guild and the Order of Deaconesses. The scheme was approved and a site purchased in the Pleasance, Edinburgh, to found an institution where Deaconesses could be trained for missionary work at home and abroad.

In 1889, St Ninian’s Mission opened here among the overcrowded tenements of the Pleasance and Cowgate areas, and in 1894 the Deaconess Hospital was opened alongside it. At the Hospital, practical training in nursing was taught to the Deaconesses who spent a year working there. For those who wanted to become fully trained nurses, they could also work for a further three years in the Deaconess Hospital’s Nurses’ Training School. As well as training Deaconesses before setting off on missionary work, the Hospital was a source of free medical care to one of the poorest districts of the City of Edinburgh at that time. A home visiting service of District Nursing and Midwifery was also provided, run by the Staff Nurse in charge. Major reconstruction work was carried out during 1934 - 1936 and the Deaconess Hospital expanded, extending into the old police station and other buildings adjacent to it.
SS Irvine Robertson, Matron of the Deaconess Hospital, 1920 - 1927 (LHSA ref. PH3/12)

In 1948, with the formation of the NHS, the Deaconess came under the control of the South Eastern Regional Hospital Board and in 1974 it became part of the South Lothian District of Lothian Health Board. The Hospital finally closed in 1990, though it remained in NHS ownership. The building was re-named Deaconess House and continued to be used as the headquarters of the NHS Board until their move to Waverley Gate in 2010.

  The Hospital, c.1935 (LHSA ref. PH5/57)
LHSA records from the Deaconess Hospital include annual reports, minutes of the many committees which worked there, patient admission records, case notes, nursing and midwifery records, operations books and staff appointment records. These are catalogued under LHSA reference LHB12.